Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bob Bovee: One More Song to Sing

One More Song to Sing
By Deb Gray Photos by Frank Varga
The Lincoln (NE) Star - April 14, 1977

When I'm gone
They'll talk about my singin` when I'm gone
I'll be in Heaven with my golden guitar ringing
Where there's a crowd on every corner
And a hat that's always full.

"Streetsingers Heaven," 
By Bob Bovee and Stevie Beck
Click HERE to listen to Andy Cohen's version

Hallelujah! What a glorious hereafter, one that only performers such as Bob Bovee could envision: a league of angels emptying themselves of cash, just to hear him sing one more chorus. But before eternity pays its dividends, there is still one more show, another string of one-night stands. God only knows where they will be these future nights of singing to yet another crop of faces, to expressions lost in winey grandeur. Bob Bovee recently performed at the Gas Light Theater.

Bovee, 31, was once a resident of Bellevue, Nebraska. He now calls Minneapolis home.

But his heart is buried in asphalt, in the stuff that takes him to one more bar, so he can strum his guitar, play his harmonica, sing the old songs.

As a youth, Bovee trained for a life of safety. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He once had what those who hate off ice-bound limits call a "day job."

But Bovee left this behind six years ago. He quit his job and took to the road, a Huck Finn, traveling concrete rivers. his ear tuned to the murmur of an America that is dying, but not yet dead.

He says that his music is "tradition-oriented.” He sings the tunes that were passed down from parent to child, generation to generation.

The values he sings about are important ones, he argues, “because they are being completely ignored by our youth.” His music is social commentary, a way to pass on messages he can't say any other way. He sings of justice, of being free. But, mostly he sings songs he feels are jeopardized by mass culture: songs such as "Old Joe Clark."

Bovee says he is an anarchist. "I feel government doesn't do much of anybody any good.” He is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, a union better known as the IWW, or Wobblies, the singingest union America ever had. The union, Bovee asserts, believes the fruits of production should go to the people who produce it."

Bovee claims he grew up in a family with no good musicians, but lots of music-makers. His family filled him with the love of music and "the knowledge that I could make it myself." His grandparents played the old tunes, sang the old ballads, and, when he was 18, Bovee started playing them too. He first played banjo, something he “never did get very good at." After banjo, he took up the autoharp. Then he learned to play harmonica. Then he learned how to play guitar licks by first playing them on the harmonica.

Bovee once had a bout with ambition He wanted to be a veterinarian. That, he tells you, was an illusion-crumbling experience. He wanted to help animals; most of the others wanted a way to make money. He switched camps, this time to history. He graduated from UNL in 1969 and found a day job. He saved his motley, and in 1970, he took off for Europe. He hung around coffeehouses, kicked around in Europe's folk underground, meeting other assorted wayfarers. In those coffeehouses, he met his destiny. He returned to the states and worked in Portland for a few months. Then, in 1971, he took his songs to the road, and that is what he has been doing since. He travels for about three-fourths of the year, seeing the U.S.A. in his Volkswagen van. Yeah, sometimes, he admits, the traveling does get him down. He often thinks about his girlfriend back in Minneapolis. 

“Sometimes,” he chortled, “I wish I could be like an amoeba and split myself up.”

He pays his bills from the money he takes in at gigs, from the contents of hats passed around at the door. It isn't a life of certain security, but, then again, Bovee isn't all that concerned about money. It's like oxygen, you need some of it to survive. Bovee considers himself a free person, free because he isn't bridled by possessions. Too many people, he said, are interested in going home, switching on the tube, buying his and her snowmobiles, or whatever the newest gadget is these days in the Jones one-upmanship racket.

Bovee considers himself musically, a traditionalist. Some of the best music he has heard has been made in people's living rooms. That's when the spirit triumphs, when the love of music means more than wrong notes or out-of-tune singing. Bovee admits he is not a technical singer. Virtuosity is not his bag.

"I've heard a lot of other singers," Bovee charged. They may be virtuosos, but they are nothing really special. It's all from the head, not from the heart. It's not magical unless it comes from the heart." Bovee decries the hucksterism of the music business. He and 10 other musical acts in Minneapolis banded together in 1972 to form the June Apple Musicians' Co-op. The co-op books and manages members as ''an alternative to the hard sell of the music industry.”

The Minneapolis (MN) Star, April 21, 1972.
He takes his songs to labor sites, to fields worked by migrant farm workers. He sings about "Skid Row,'' tearing down low-rent housing in Denver and pushing pensioners out of their homes, and “Blue Diamond Mines,” about the conditions in coal mines.

When Bovee was a youth, back in the 60s, he had the red-blooded ideals. But then he said he looked Lyndon Johnson. Richard Nixon, the political assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. "Then I looked and thought, 'Who was Dwight Eisenhower? Who was Franklin Roosevelt?' I saw people perpetuating a system for the sake of saving themselves."

When will the people be emancipated? Probably never, considering human variables of greed and a lust for power. But, Bovee won't give up. Before the people are freed, he has another show. After the show, he'll pack up his guitar, harmonica and cowboy hat, load up his bus and go to Omaha, then to Idaho, Spokane, and the San Diego Folk Festival. The ghosts of fellow wobblie Joe Hill and Woody Guthrie will sit in the passenger seat, and Bovee will drive off into another electric night, speeding to keep ahead of the most fatal disease of all: disillusionment.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Warm Springs Cemetery - The burial site of Tommy Johnson

Warm Springs Cemetery In rural Copiah County, MS Close to Terry and the Hinds County line 1) Tommy Johnson 2)...
Posted by Mt. Zion Memorial Fund on Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Vintage Photo Identified

Born in 1914, R.P Murray was the son of Peter (b. 1873) and Rosa M. Murray (b. 1892). He had an older sister Anna (b....

Posted by Mt. Zion Memorial Fund on Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Michael Cala: Respect for the Dead, the Living, and Honoring the Blues

Michael Cala and the marker that 
currently serves as the only positive 
force for the restoration of
Grasmere music journalist Michael Cala deserves the utmost in recognition and respect from us all after initiating a campaign to mark the grave of blues singer Mamie Smith and realizing that helping the struggling caretakers of the entire burial ground was not outside the purview of his endeavor.  The campaign was so successful that he not only honored a legendary recording artist but also contributed thousands of dollars towards the upkeep of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park. "The cemetery is rather cash strapped," Cala admitted in one interview, revealing an inconvenient truth that extends much farther than the boundaries of the memorial park to neglected and abandoned African American burial grounds across the country.  "They don't have much money," Cala explained, "and what they wanted to do was...right headstones and foot stones that were moved by Hurricane Sandy."  It's difficult to argue with him regarding his decision to donate excess funds to the caretakers to help refurbish the burial ground.  Cemeteries are as much about respect for the living as they are about honoring the dead.  Michael Cala made his effort an inclusive one, and he provided an example for the rest of us to emulate in our everyday lives.

The Headstone for Mamie Smith
You can read more about the campaign and the dedication of the headstone of Mamie Smith here and here.  

The troubles of the cemetery continue to create problems for its caretakers a year after the dedication,  but we are looking into the situation and hoping to help put the large burial under the control of individuals who possess the time and level of concern required to manage such a hallowed ground.   The problems with African American cemeteries are legion across the nation, but the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund attempts to support caretakers across the United States.

It's difficult to get the mainstream media to cover similar campaigns to preserve abandoned African American burial grounds in Mississippi, so please visit our website to learn more about our constant efforts to maintain historic abandoned cemeteries and markers of blues musicians. 

Currently, we need help to mark the grave of Bo Carter and preserve Nitta Yuma Cemetery.  You can view the video for our campaign HERE.

Brian Palmer makes the compelling case that "neglected black cemeteries deserve the same level of care that their Confederate counterparts get" in his recent article in the New York Times.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Warm Springs in the NBDEA

Several of the cemeteries we submitted to the National Burial Database of Enslaved Americans (NBDEA) were accepted and are now included in the report, "Memory & Landmarks: Report of the Burial Database Project of Enslaved Americans." Its hard to explain how difficult it is to dig up and compile evidence linking mostly unmarked burial grounds to the antebellum period. Not all submissions made it into this initial conglomeration, but Warm Springs CME Church Cemetery outside of Crystal Springs--the burial ground of blues singer Tommy Johnson--did make it into the report. It's now marked on county and state road maps and archived in the NBDEA. His ancestors settled in the community after fleeing the plantation of James Wilson, who committed suicide by wading into Copiah Creek. Wilson's headstone (left) stands in Old Crystal Springs Cemetery. Click on the link below to view or download the document, which does not list it by name only city and religious affiliation.

Memory & Landmarks

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Joanne Fish - W.C. Handy Documentary Promo Page

Corporation Jeopardizes Future of the Pennington African Cemetery

By Angela Jacobs, Dec 20, 2016

Typically few, if any, people come to Pennington Borough’s Planning Board meetings, but seats were filled and tensions were high as attendees waited for the board’s ruling on whether to grant an extension of time for J&M Schragger LLC to file a Minor Subdivision Deed on its 417 South Main Street property. Though the request was more of a formality, as Municipal Land Use Law NJSA 40:55D-21 mandates the extension, several supporters of the Pennington African Cemetery Association (PACA) spoke out against ruling in favor of the corporation. In the end, a six month extension was granted.
Historical Context
In 1863, African American residents of Pennington purchased land adjacent (serving as a long driveway) and a large plot of land behind 417 S. Main Street. The purpose of the land was to create access to a cemetery they built for African American residents who were prohibited from burial at white cemeteries. Though the Pennington African Cemetery (PAC) is no longer an active burial ground, it is revered by its volunteers who are members of the Pennington African Cemetery Association (PACA) and who maintain the fenced-in area and its driveway. For at least the past 60 years, owners of the home at 417 S. Main St. had been informally allowed to use the driveway in order to park behind their home. In return, the homeowners cut the cemetery’s grass and removed snow from PAC’s driveway.

The Issue
John and Michelle Schragger (owners of J&M Schragger, LLC) purchased the home at 417 S. Main St. for their own residence, in April 2016, intending to then subdivide the back half of the lot, which borders PAC, for development and resale. Both lots would require use of PAC’s driveway in order to park behind the homes, so a formal easement, allowing its use, was sought from the cemetery association. At the June Planning/Zoning Board meeting, the board approved the applicant’s request for a minor subdivision, with the requirement that a legal easement be obtained from the cemetery association. With easement in hand, the applicant would then be required to file a minor subdivision deed, 190 days from June 8th. 

Though efforts were made to agree on easement terms, Angela Witcher, on behalf of PACA, notified the applicant on July 7th that they would not grant an easement. In response, on August 11th, the applicant filed a lawsuit against PACA, as well as individually against sisters, Angela and Susan Witcher. The suit is scheduled for hearing at Mercer County’s Superior Court in March. At the December Planning/Zoning Board meeting, just shy of the 190 day deadline, the applicant requested an extension to file the minor subdivision deed in hopes that they are granted the easement in March.

Angela Witcher speaks to planning board
The Problems

At the May Planning/Zoning Board meeting, Susan Witcher, a member of the Pennington African Cemetery Association, happened to be in attendance and was asked to testify on the status of the easement. At the December meeting, her sister Angela testified that Susan was unprepared to speak for PACA and unfamiliar with the legalities being discussed. Susan’s testimony was pivotal in the board’s decision to grant the applicant’s application for the subdivision. 

PACA has no formal leadership. Over the course of the past eight months, questions of who has the authority to speak for the organization and sign legal documents have repeatedly been asked without clear answer. Though PACA retained a lawyer in the spring to guide them through that issue, the attorney apparently did not fully represent PACA’s wishes in regards to discussions about the easement with the applicant. Instead, the attorney drafted a letter outlining general terms needed for an easement to be possible in the future and asked for money upfront, something like a promise ring. According to Angela Witcher’s December testimony, PACA never considered granting an easement. 

The applicant claims that its corporation purchased the property based on assumptions made that an easement was forthcoming, and proceeded with the purchase with the aim of subdividing the lot.


While it may be unfortunate that the applicant believed they would be granted an easement, PACA asserts that there was no indication on the part of PACA that they would be amenable to one. Events did transpire that led them in this thinking. Instead of parting ways, albeit unhappily, the applicant seeks compensation for lost wages on their potential investment property in upwards of $20,000. If damages are awarded, Witcher sisters indicate that this would most likely bankrupt them personally and make any upkeep of the cemetery impossible. 

The issue is not merely about a piece of paper, the easement, but about Pennington’s African American community feeling unheard and unprepared to fight the legal system, according to many vocal members of the community. PACA had an informal relationship with the prior neighboring property owners, allowing them to use their driveway to access the back of their lot. However, the association adamantly denies an interest in waiving legal rights of their driveway. If an easement is forced by the courts, the sisters and cemetery would potentially have to obtain a lawyer for every facet of the litigation, resulting in a high cost to PACA, an organization that has very little resources. 

To help with PACA’s many needed projects (i.e. stabilizing leaning and overturned headstones, leveling sunken graves, and placing headstones on unmarked graves) or contribute to their legal defense, go to PACA’s GoFundMe page.

Disgraced Cemetery Manager to Pay $15,000 in Restitution for Nine Headstones

By Jennifer Waugh

JACKSONVILLE, FL - The former manager of a local cemetery has agreed to pay back money he is accused of taking from some of his customers for services never provided. Nader John Rayan’s attorney told a judge Tuesday morning that his client will pay $15,000 in restitution to nine families.

The families accused Rayan of taking money for grave markers that were never delivered.

Rayan promised to repay the money by Feb. 2.

It was the latest development in an I-TEAM investigation that led to Rayan's arrest last July. News4Jax exposed dozens of complaints against Rayan and his wife, who owned Beaches Memorial Park and First Coast Funeral Home in Atlantic Beach.

Rayan is charged with 15 counts of grand theft. As a result of our stories, his wife, Amanda Rayan, was also arrested last August.

Amanda Rayan has yet to be arraigned on 47 charges. Prosecutors said she falsified names on dozens of death certificates.